Thursday, July 7, 2011

Weimar South Africa

One of the most important elections of this century may have recently  taken place in South Africa – Julius Melema was re-elected as head of the ruling ANC’s Youth Branch.  History may well look back upon that as the missed opportunity to stop the man who is on his way to becoming the black Hitler of Southern Africa. 
To most in America the story of South Africa concludes with the happy ending of Mandela rising out of Robbin Island to become President – ending Apartheid and leading the nation forward in racial harmony.   Although there some truth to that, it is not the end of the story.  What the ANC and Mandela accomplished was truly amazing.  Considering that we are at the 150th anniversary of our Civil War in which 600,000 soldiers died and we still had to have the civil rights movement a hundred years later to make the kind of racial progress that South Africa had in the 1990’s.
South Africa’s economic accomplishments are only slightly less amazing.  They are in their fifteen year of growth, growing even through the economic downturn.   South Africa is the next Brazil.  They have built a solid black middle class and are making great strides in brining services and a better life to everyone.  But the country is still a first world archipelago in third world sea.  Although the upper and middle classes are now integrated, the poor are black.  South Africa still has one of the largest income disparities in the world.
There are two ways to solve the income gap problem.  You could try to bring the bottom up through development and providing services like education while taxing the top to bring it more into balance.  Or you can take everything from the top and bring them crashing down.  This is what Mugabe has done in Zimbabwe and it has turned one of the richest countries in Africa into one of the poorest. 
Malema admires Mugabe, even flying to Harare during to praise him and show his support.  Malema has openly called for trying his solutions in South Africa.  In Malema’s victory speech on Sunday he called for whites to be thrown off the land that the stole from the blacks during the course of the four hundred years of expanding white control.  He has long called for South Africa’s mines to be seized and on Sunday added the banks for good measure.  Nor is he ignorant of what it would take – he was tried for “Hate Speech” for singing the songs from the struggle calling for the blacks to “kill the Boer” (Boer being the Afrikaner white people) and to take up the machine gun.
And Melema is now very very popular, especially among the young blacks – who face 60% unemployment.  The problem with trying to develop your way out of a huge income gap is that it requires decades or patience from the group of people least able to be patient – the desperately poor.  Up to now, the South African masses have shown amazing patience.  But up to now they haven’t had a master orator inciting them not to be patient.
Melema’s positions in no way represent the official position of the ANC.  And at their heart his militant Black Power is the exact opposite of the Rainbow Nation that Mandela devoted his life to building.   In fact, every time Melema makes a statement calling for nationalizing the mines or taking land, the ANC official scurry around the country and around the world to reassure the business community, the white community and the colored community that what he says is not the position of the ANC or the government it controls.  (In South Africa, people of mixed race are called and refer to themselves as “colored” --- now they worry that after not being white enough under Apartheid, they are not going to be black enough.  In South Africa, the minorities are the whites and coloreds.  And our summer is their winter.)
But when Malema lines the current ANC officials against the wall and shots them – which is where this roller coaster ride inevitably ends – he will not be entirely innocent bystanders.   The ANC has been willing to see Melema as a useful idiot, an unruly child they could control.  They have also been willing to reap the benefits a Melema can bring.  Until now, Melema has dutifully marched his supporters to the ballot boxes to check the ANC box.   That way the ANC can receive both votes of those satisfied with South Africa’s direction and those who have lost patience and want radical change.
But that amazingly neat trick has created a monster they are struggling to control.  In their rhetoric the other ANC officials have lulled themselves into acceptance by ascribing Melema’s actions to youth.  But at 30 years old, he is now three years older than Quaddafi was when he seized power.  He is not in a phase that he will grow out of.   Since his latest rants involve supposed plots on his life by ANC officials, he may in fact be entering the phase where he turns to violence “in his own defense.” 
There is no easy answer for the ANC.  I don’t see any answer that does not split the party.  Either the party becomes Melema and anyone who still clings to hope for a non-racial South Africa is forced out, or Melema is forced out and those who believe in Black supremacy go with him.  Then perhaps he can be defeated.  The one thing that ANC officials who do not support Melema cannot do is expect that opposing him but not destroying  ends with them anywhere but in front of the firing squad with their country in ruins behind them.

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